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Jackson County authorities reopen investigation into 1971 cold case

The case involves a mysterious cabin fire that happened Dec. 18, 1971, roughly a mile and a half south of Brownstown on State Road 135.
Credit: Adobe Stock/vmargineanu

JACKSON COUNTY, Indiana — Authorities in Jackson County have reopened an investigation into a deadly 1971 cabin fire in hopes of solving the more than 50-year-old cold case.

The case involves a mysterious cabin fire that happened Dec. 18, 1971, roughly a mile and a half south of Brownstown on State Road 135.

According to police reports from the time of the fire, two teenagers, 17-year-old Stanley R. Robison and 19-year-old Jerry Autry, were believed to have died in the fire at a make-shift structure which was used for camping.

A third teenager, 16-year-old Michael W. Sewell, was camping with the pair the night of the fire, but police reports from the time indicate only two bodies were found.

The two bodies were badly burned, and the only means of identification were class rings found, belonging to Robison and Autry.

Sewell was reported missing later that day and has not been seen or heard from since.

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“Several questions have been raised over the years adding to the mystery of the events of that evening,” Jackson County Sheriff's Department Lt. Adam Nicholson said in a statement. “After looking at everything and processing all of the old reports and evidence, the only additional thing we could do would be to exhume the remains of Mr. Autry and Mr. Robison to check for any additional DNA evidence.”

Several questions have been raised on the case over the years, including the possibility that Sewell may have died in the fire.

A family member reached out to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department with interest in having the case reopened, prompting the renewed efforts. The FBI is assisting in the investigation.

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The remains of Autry and Robison were exhumed on June 21, 2022, with consent from the families and transported to the University of Indianapolis for analysis.

“Although this is expected to be a long process, we are hopeful in getting long overdue answers for these families and thank them for bringing attention back to this unsolved case,” Nicholson said in a statement.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department is asking anyone with information on the case to contact Nicholson at 812-358-2141.

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